I paid a couple of visits to Warwick Castle for their Haunted Castle event in the past few days and managed to get the majority of their Halloween attractions completed. I thought I'd briefly sum up my thoughts on this year's offering.
The family scare walkthrough (I hesitate to use scare maze or scare zone as it doesn't quite meet either), is once again the Haunted Hollows. Located on the Lodge Drive, the Hollows feature a number of sections each with a different spooky theme - pumpkins, skeletons, gargoyles etc. Whilst it was nicely done, this year there seemed to be less theming than previously, and only two actors throughout the entire attraction when I went through. Whilst I have no doubt that young families will love it, it is a shame that it isn't as good as it has been in previous years.
Dead Centre Stage
This has to be one of the best additions for this year's event. The Dead Centre Stage is located in the heart of the Castle Courtyard and hosts shows pretty much every half an hour, with each show being different, something which the castle deserves recognition for as it's not easy to have so many unique shows. The stage was a hit with families, and what was impressive was the level of audience participation from parents and children alike - seeing a Courtyard full of people all doing the Thriller dance was quite the sight to behold! At 6:30, the stage also hosts the prequel to the Fire Joust - the Betrayal of the Barons. Making full use of the Castle's rich history, this pre-show tells the tale of how the Earl of Warwick, alongside other Barons of the land, was responsible for the execution of King Edward II's favourite, Piers Gaveston. This set things up perfectly for the Fire Joust later in the Evening.
New for 2017 is Dolls House, the third part of the series of mazes which has been preceded by Condemned and Tormented in 2015 & 2016 respectively. Guests follow in the footsteps of two children who disappeared during the 1800's and whose mother became convinced that their spirits inhabited their favourite toy - a dolls house. The maze started promisingly enough with a suitably creepy opening scene. However, that was sadly as good as it got. As you made your way through the maze (set in the Royal Weekend Party area of the Castle), there didn't seem to be much sense of story, and the characters you encountered jarred with the historic setting of the Castle and the time period in which the maze was supposedly set, and the whole maze lacked any form of scares. It is a shame as the maze's predecessors were so much better then this year's offering.
Returning for its 3rd year is Outbreak 1349 which sees guests descend into the Castle's undercroft to encounter plague ridden characters. After a brief introduction (which has been slightly tweaked from previous years), guests make their way in a conga line formation through what is usually the Kingmaker exhibition. Despite being placed in the 'Brave Knights' category, the maze lacked the intensity it had in previous years and there seemed to be a number of missed opportunities for scares.
Another new addition for this year is Seance. Not knowing quite what to expect from this I was intrigued as to exactly how it would work, especially as the experience is delivered in pitch black and through headphones. I have to say I was impressed by Seance. By almost isolating guests through plunging you into darkness and using the headphones so you can't hear anything other than the sound through the headphones, it heightens the tension and anticipation. The experience relies on a much more subtle type of scare rather than sudden or jump scares, something which works incredibly well. Having someone seemingly whispering in your ear certainly manages to unnerve the majority of people in the room. The whole experience takes around 20 minutes, however at n point do you feel it's dragging and I'd say it is about the ideal length. Whilst it is an upcharge attraction, £3.50 per person, it is something that I would say is value for money and if you do get the chance I'd definitely recommend doing it.
Concluding the programme of entertainment is the Fire Joust. Located on the River Island, guests watch the joust from the river bank opposite (unfortunately logistics mean the Castle isn't able to sufficiently light the Island to be able to use the summer jousting arena). Continuing the story from the pre-show in the Castle Courtyard, the Fire Joust sees Piers Gaveston, now trapped in purgatory, attempt to get his revenge on the soul of the Earl of Warwick who was responsible for his execution. Once again the Fire Joust is an excellent spectacle with the right balance of skills tests, jousting, and foot fighting and well worth watching.
Overall Warwick have a pretty decent offering this year, although it is a shame that their mazes are slightly weaker than in previous years. What isn't in doubt is that they have an impressive range of entertainment throughout the day, as well as their special Halloween shows, the Trebuchet is also firing twice a day, the ever popular Bowman demonstrates his skills, and of course the stunning Flight of the eagles show also has two shows a day.